Morgan - unacceptable hardships must be ended
As Deputy Crowe pointed out in opening up this debate, this motion is about real people and the unacceptable hardships which they face in attempting to secure education for their children. It is about ensuring access to education for people with disabilities and special needs. It is about applying political pressure to the government to ensure that the needs of these people are met as a matter of urgency.
Sinn Féin acknowledges that progress has been made in the area of special needs education, including the passage of the Education for Persons with Special Needs Act 2004. However like every other deputy in this house I still come up against numerous cases of parents fighting for access to educational services for their children on an ongoing basis.
Parents, like those of a child in Ardee diagnosed with dyslexia, who was progressing from infants to 1st year, who have been told he would have to wait 18 months to be assessed by a psychologist.
Parents such as those of children attending St Brigid's School for children with mild general learning difficulties in Dundalk where Department of Education and Science refused to grant co-operation hours for practical subject teachers of an additional four hours, forty-five minutes per day to this school. This has resulted in a situation currently pertaining at the school where, as a consequence of this refusal, students with disabilities are only getting practical subject input on a week-on, week-off basis. This is not acceptable.
Another issue which is concerning parents and which I would like to highlight in brief is the importance of providing proper training for special needs teachers. I am aware of instances in my own constituency where ordinary teachers with no training or experience are being asked to cover resource hours. This needs to be addressed
I would like to address the issue of class size. This motion urges the Government to take immediate steps to fulfill its commitment to reduce class sizes for children under nine to less than 20 and to plan for future teacher supply requirements, including by the immediate establishment of a Forum on Teacher Supply.
This is vitally important, particularly for children with special needs.
The INTO in November of last year expressed its shock and disappointment at the announcement by the Minister for Education that that class size for all children under nine will not be reduced to below 20:1 as specifically committed in the Programme for Government.
Class size is inextricably linked to the issue of special needs education. Reducing class sizes in the early years is a preventative rather than a remedial approach. Smaller class size helps pupils get a better start and allows teachers to identify the particular needs of individual children. In the words of the INTO "It's not that we can't afford to reduce class size -- we cannot afford not to reduce them".
This State has the second largest class sizes in western Europe. Over eighty percent of children under nine, 170,000 children, are in classes of greater than twenty at present. According to the INTO to bring average class sizes down to under 20:1 will require about 2,500 more teachers. More will be needed to provide a lower class size for children under nine in Third Class.
Average class size in this State is 24.5, while the OECD average is 22. Most states in the European Union have average class sizes considerably below that of this State, including Denmark, 19, Belgium, 20, Italy, 18, and Luxembourg, 15. Average class size at second level is 21 while the OECD average is 24. Addressing class size at primary level must be put at the top of the Governments agenda. It needs to ensure that its own commitment, contained in the Programme for Government, is met.